Cultivating Food Justice at Green Thumb Organics
Daisy Prado, CUESA Staff
May 4, 2018
As a fourth-generation farmer, Rudy Jimenez has farming in his blood. Growing up in Salinas, California, Rudy’s father, who had been working on a conventional farm for 30 years, gave him a choice: either go to school, or you are going to end up in the fields.
Farmworkers at conventional farms work 43 to 53 hours a week on average, and about 25 percent of farmworkers are living with total family incomes well under the federal poverty line.
“I thought to myself ‘I don’t want to end up in the fields.’ But I also didn’t want to go to college,” Rudy says. “I had an entrepreneurial spirit since I was a kid. I used to help my mom promote healthy food, and we would go from door to door trying to sell food.”
Rudy made a decision to stay in agriculture, but to do it his own way. He now runs Green Thumb Organics, a three-acre certified organic farm in east Salinas, while offering health education programs for children of farmworkers in the area.
Connecting Children Back to the Farm
Most of the children that his program serves have never been on a farm despite their parents being farmworkers. “They know that their parents work in the field, but they haven’t made that connection yet,” says Rudy.
Despite Salinas Valley being one of the most productive agricultural regions in California, Rudy and his community don’t benefit from the food that is grown in the region due to most of it being grown solely for mass production for profit. California grows the vast majority of the country’s fruits and vegetables, yet tens of thousands of farmworkers in the Central Valley suffer from malnutrition, obesity, and diabetes because they cannot afford to buy fresh produce, which is more expensive than unhealthy, processed foods.
As a counterpoint, Green Thumb Organics’ program offers healthy farm-fresh meals for the children who visit. “The kids get to come after school and have a healthy meal. A lot of their parents work in the fields and don’t make over $15,000 a year, so they’re not even making minimum wage,” he says. “The meal that the kids have in our after-school program is usually the last meal they have that day.”
Rudy also uses this opportunity to introduce children to a farm that is organic, so they can go back home and share what they learned with their families.
“I’ve been in the food industry for almost 12 years now. I worked as a server and then I worked at a big industry farm. And I have family that worked in the fields,” says Rudy. “I wanted to make a connection between the people of Salinas and having better, more sustainable food. We mass-produce food here, so the narrative about Salinas is big companies. It’s never a young person taking advantage of an opportunity to give back in their hometown.”
Organic Training Grounds at ALBA
Growing up in a farming family, Rudy witnessed his family members who worked all day in the fields with pesticides suffer from ailments such as tumors, cancer, and asthma. By the time he was 15 years old, he started experiencing health issues and connected it to living on a conventional farm his whole life, which inspired his quest for a healthier lifestyle.
Green Thumb Organics is located on a plot at the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), a 100-acre training farm that creates economic opportunities for low-income and aspiring organic farmers. The five-year Farmer Education and Enterprise Development (FEED) program at the Salinas Valley-based facility arms farmers with knowledge on how to launch a farm business, how to farm organically, and how to market the produce they grow.
“I have met a lot of people who love farming but don’t understand the business side of it. Being part of ALBA, I got to see both sides of the business,” he says. “Before, my dad was working so hard that he wasn’t able to understand the business of farming. Now he gets to work with me at the farm, and I have that advantage to get that wisdom from him.”
Nourishing a Community
With his graduation from ALBA on the horizon, Rudy is looking at taking the next step, which proves to be one of the biggest challenges all small farmers face: finding land.
“There is so much land in Salinas, but it’s all controlled by big companies. The prices of land are high. The soil is good, the weather is great, but the accessibility just isn’t there,” he says. “As someone who is about to transition, that is the part that I am struggling with the most.”
Despite this, Rudy stays optimistic as he sets out on his journey to be an independent, small farmer with an even bigger goal: to open up his own vegan restaurant in Salinas. The product of a legacy of immigrants and farmworkers, Rudy continues on his mission to nourish and provide learning opportunities for his community, like those before him.
“We want to educate consumers so that they have the power to make the right choice. And a lot of that is just providing the information to make the right choice.”
Visit Green Thumb Organics on Tuesdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
Topics: Building Equity program, Farms, New farmers, Social justice